Zettelkasten

How to Write a Book – Without Even Trying (so hard)

In my last post A Life-Long Writing Project on Writing – and My Anxiety I said that I wrote a (small) book on writing while researching it.

In this post I’ll present the method which led to this book.

There are two methods to work with a Zettelkasten:

  1. Indirectional
  2. Directional

Indirectional work means that you just feed your Zettelkasten. It is hungry and demands for notes a.k.a. Zettels. The more you feed it, the more complex it becomes, and the more it will actually talk to you. For additional information read: Create a Zettelkasten for your Notes to Improve Thinking and Writing

Directional Work means that you are working on a text, a book or an article, and feeding your Zettelkasten with notes directly and intentionally related to this book.

Most of my work with the Zettelkasten is indirectional. That means that I have no intention to use it for any project when I read stuff and extract ideas, concepts, and models, and form Zettels out of them. I just conquer the ideas for my small realm.

I need to do research for most of my writing. During this research the notes are formed into Zettels and go into my Zettelkasten. The “secret ingredient” here is to attach the ID to an outline.

silhouette of a cat
Photo Credit: Watt_Dabney via Compfight cc

As I progress through the research I can see the outline growing and changing. Sometimes I just begin with an empty file and just make a list of Zettels related to that topic. After a while clusters will form to topics and subtopics, which I mark up as headings and subheadings.

I thrive on that kind of writing because it divides the big behemoth of a complex writing project into smaller little text snippets that are easy to deal with.

After I experienced the ease of writing with this method I transformed all my indirectional work with the Zettelkasten into some sort of directional work.

I created a folder with the title Themes and Outlines.

When I create a Zettel, I search through the folder for an outline that could make use of this Zettel. If I don’t have an outline in my folder that fits, I create one.

Now I can see articles, books, and other writing projects emerge as a consequence that I read texts and create Zettels without any specific intention in doing so.

The book on writing I mentioned came to be in the same manner. I work on a book on nutrition, so I decided to research how to write a book and writing in general. Each note I turned into a Zettel got its place in an outline. After a while, I satisfied my need for readings on that topic. When I looked at the outline I realized that I had notes worth a book already. I replaced the IDs with the content of the Zettels. Voilá. A manuscript was ready.

How do you transform your notes into a text? Let us know in the comments.